Blue tarpaulins cover loose caskets that floated out of tombs during Hurricane Isaac and were scattered around large sections of eastern Plaquemines Parish, punctuating the brown debris that still covers most of the parish.
In cemetery after cemetery, family tombs gape open. That didn’t happen when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, said O’Neal Dorsey, 70.
“This is the first time we saw something like this happen here. During Katrina, we hardly saw anything,” he told The Times-Picayune. “There are bodies exposed, and caskets that are damaged and out of their tombs.”
State and parish crews, contractors and volunteers have brought most of the loose caskets to Louisiana Highway 39 near cemeteries and tied tarps around them with thick white string.
On Monday, cranes will begin moving tombs off public land and back to cemeteries. Mary Manheim and her team from Louisiana State University’s Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services – known as FACES – will begin the long task of identifying unmarked caskets.
Some of the tombs are at least a century old, said Guy Laigast, the director of Plaquemines’ office of emergency preparedness, which is spearheading the cemetery restoration. “It is a slow process. You are dealing with people’s remains and you want to disturb as little as possible.”
The LSU team will analyze bones to determine age, sex, height and ethnicity, and examine any clothing or artifacts that might provide clues about the person.
“Many of these are old, old burials,” director Mary Manheim said.
The team also will analyze four sets of loose bones collected around the parish.